House Votes to Protect State-Legal Cannabis Businesses

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed an appropriations amendment that protects state-legal cannabis programs from federal interference.

Introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the bipartisan amendment to H.R. 7617 — the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2021 — was approved in a 254-163 floor vote last Thursday.

The amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to prevent states, territories and tribal lands “from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

Blumenauer, who also co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, argued for the passage of the amendment by pointing to the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe cannabis should be legal, and by highlighting growing tax revenue generated from the sale of marijuana products.

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” Blumenauer said via a news release.

He also reminded colleagues that they previously passed the SAFE Banking Act — which would protect financial institutions working with state-approved cannabis companies — and noted that the MORE Act, which would fully legalize cannabis, passed out of the Judiciary Committee late last year.

“As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs,” he said in a statement.

Several cannabis industry trade groups cheered the passage of the amendment, with NORML political director Justin Strekal calling it “the most significant vote on marijuana policy reform that the House of Representatives has taken this year.”

“The importance of this bipartisan vote cannot be overstated,” he said in a statement. “Nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute. It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and retain these protections in the final spending bill.”

Meanwhile, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith called on the Senate to maintain the provision as it works to iron out the final language in the spending bill.

“Passage of this amendment would give state-legal and essential cannabis businesses some temporary peace of mind while Congress works to permanently end federal prohibition and repair the damage it has done to marginalized communities,” he said via a news release. “It is clear that there is strong bipartisan support for cannabis policy reform, and we will continue working with lawmakers to promote further legislation in this session.”

While there is support for cannabis reform on both sides of the aisle, only 16% of House Republicans voted in favor of Blumenauer’s amendment.

Moreover, the Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to embrace that component of the spending package. Last year, a similar amendment cleared a House vote but was removed from the final budget bill by the Senate.

According to the NCIA, Congress has previously approved appropriations language that prevents federal interference in state-legal medial cannabis programs only.

Currently, eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.

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